Baker Mi Kim trusts her instincts, offering special flavors such as black sesame and basil blueberry. "Every time I’ve followed my gut with this place, it works out," she says.
The first photo baker Mi Kim posted under her Raised Doughnuts page on Instagram has 11 likes. It was May 24, 2016, and the caption reads “Day one of testing begins.”
At the time, Kim had been working at Macrina Bakery — first as an intern, and eventually as head pastry chef — for eight years and had never had the urge to do her own thing until “it just hit me like a freakin’ truck.”
Now, Kim is sitting in her Central District shop, near 23rd and Union. There’s a muted tile counter of marbled white on one side with a long row of bench seating along the other. “Doughnut Worry Be Happy” is spelled out in custom neon over a green marbled wall, painted by Kim.
“I wanted to decorate it like a house, like you’re in my kitchen,” she says.
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Her doughnuts are all yeasted; she sells fritters, bars, ring doughnuts and holes. Each month features special doughnuts like black sesame or basil blueberry alongside “original” flavors; maple bar, plain glazed, sugared mochi, chocolate bar and raspberry holes.
The shop opened on June 30, 2018, and the time spent between that first Instagram post and now has gone by in a flash; filled with research, pop-ups and very few missteps.
After the notion of having her own thing hit, Kim reached out to I-Miun Liu, owner of Oasis Tea Zone, Dynasty Room, Eastern Cafe and East Trading Co. Liu had gotten in touch with her at one point to consult on a dessert bar and Kim thought “if he wants baking advice, maybe he’d give me business advice.”
At the end of a four-hour conversation about doughnuts and Kim’s dreams, Liu asked if she just wanted to partner up.
“I was like, this is actually a 10-year plan for me. I need to make the money, I need to save and need to make sure of everything, and he was like, ‘No, I’ll fund it all. I’ve always wanted to have a doughnut shop and I trust in your abilities.’
Read all about how I-Miun Liu gave iconic Seattle dive bar The Dynasty Room a reprieve from the wrecking ball
“I gave my notice at Macrina like a week or two later and started testing. It went really fast,” she says.
The duo started pop-ups in March 2017. For the first one, Kim says she made 300 doughnuts, which compared to the 1,000 she makes now seems like such a tiny number, but she had no idea what to expect.
“I’d only done PR through Instagram and Facebook, but we sold out in 45 minutes.”
They bought a fryer and began using Oasis as a kitchen, at first walking the doughnuts over to Eastern Cafe just a block away for monthly pop-ups while hunting for a brick and mortar space.
Her Instagram following was growing and monthly pop-ups at Eastern, as well as Matcha Man (where she first introduced her popular mochi doughnut) and Addo, were consistently selling out.
“I learned that if you have six items on the menu, because you’re a pop-up, everyone will get all six.”
Kim is, in a word, effervescent. She calls herself the “excited half of the partnership” but she’s also calculating and trusts her instincts. The name Raised Doughnuts and the branding of an elephant with a raised trunk were designed by Tony Tran, but the concept was all Kim.
“I like to see all my options and think about them, but it’s always been in my gut. Every time I’ve followed my gut with this place, it works out. It’s just how this happened. I can’t do this for other people, it’s the passion that worked out.”
Same with her flavors. Early on she decided there would be no sprinkles at Raised, mainly because they often have no flavor and if she’s got a mantra it’s that “everything should make sense.”
“I’m not putting this on there just to put it on there because it looks good. It’s always going to be about flavor.”
The same goes for texture; there needs to be a contrast. Her strawberry cheesecake is glazed with smooth cheesecake and topped with a crunchy graham cracker crust and freeze-dried strawberries; the cranberry thyme features a thyme-infused glaze with freeze-dried cranberries.
Now that she’s settled into the Central District location, there’s been some talk of expansion, but Kim says she has no desire.
“I never want to be a Top Pot, I never want to grow that big. I always want it to be a small shop and just make it special. You can go to a grocery store and get a doughnut, but you made the effort to come out and get a Raised. It’s always been our whole thing. That’s what we base our decisions off: ‘Is this going to keep it special?’” she says.
Plans for keeping Raised special in 2019 include doughnut classes with Kim held at the shop, filled doughnuts available only on Sundays, and a special night once per month where she’ll make only savory doughnuts.
The idea came about after a collaboration with Li’l Woody’s where Kim made a doughnut homage to their Fig and the Pig burger topped with fresh figs, bacon and a blue-cheese glaze.
“In the shop, we did blueberry blue-cheese bacon, which was a huge hit. People were skeptical and I love it when people are skeptical and then they try it and they love it. A lot of people still come in and ask for the bacon one.”
The plan for savory-doughnut night includes a pizza doughnut with mini pepperoni and a tomato-sauce glaze, a doughnut dipped in Kim’s nacho-cheese sauce topped with hot Cheetos, and a grilled-cheese doughnut pressed on a panini grill.
“It’s going to be really fun,” she says with glee.
Lastly, she’s turning to her peers, pushing them to realize their dreams. Raised is always open to chefs wanting to use the kitchen or host a pop-up of their own. She’s also selling marshmallows made by friend and former Macrina co-worker Andrea Miller in the custom blended hot chocolate and in tiny bags to go.
“Her marshmallows are the best, I’ve never had better. I said please make them for here, I’ll sell them and show you how good they are, people will love them,” she says.